China was a hot topic during Monday night’s U.S. Senate debate in Cleveland, as Democrat Tim Ryan sought to link Republican J.D. Vance to thousands of manufacturing jobs leaving the state.
Ryan, who has represented districts in northeast Ohio in the U.S. House since 2003, argued that his venture-capitalist opponent invested in companies that outsourced jobs to China, a claim that Vance denied.
“J.D. Vance is invested into companies in China. The problem we’re having now with inflation is our supply chains all went to China,” Ryan said on the debate stage. “And guys like him have made a lot of money off that, and that is exactly why the supply chains are locked up.”
Vance hit back that Ryan “couldn’t even name the company that [Vance] allegedly invested in that ships jobs to China.”
“Well, did you?” asked Ryan. Vance’s response: “Not that I know of.”
The rivals appeared to be on the same page about at least one thing: the importance of bringing outsourced jobs back to the U.S.
But Vance, author of the memoir “Hillbilly Elegy,” argued that China trade problems have been “exacerbated by our own leadership’s failures,” and argued more needs to be done to lower the cost of energy and impose tariffs on China for undercutting wages.
Ryan portrayed his views in this area as similar to those of Vance, saying that he “supported generally [former President Donald Trump’s] position on China and Chinese tariffs” and has favored policies promoting natural-gas production. “We have two natural-gas power plants in my congressional district that I helped us get, and the union that works in the natural-gas industry endorsed me. Do you think they’re going to endorse me for banning fracking?”
In addition to trade policy, the two candidates tackled foreign policy toward China, with fear growing that Chinese invasion of Taiwan is becoming all but imminent.
Ryan emphasized that while “we do not want to be at war with China,” the U.S. will have to honor the commitments it has made to Taiwan, before again tying himself to Trump. “That’s why I have always supported strong investments into our defense, including President Trump’s defense budget, President Trump’s initiative with the Space Force,” he said.
Although a traditional pro-labor Democrat, Ryan has also sought to distance himself from President Joe Biden as part of his effort to flip the seat, which has been held by Republicans for more than 20 years and by Sen. Rob Portman since 2010. While rated “lean Republican” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, tighter-than-typical statewide polling has left several analysts believing in Ryan’s chance at winning the seat.
Unlike Ryan, Vance did not underscore the need to bolster the U.S. military in response to the debate moderator’s question about Taiwan, emphasizing instead that the U.S. should “get ourselves in a position where we don’t have to rely on the Chinese and the Taiwanese in the first place.”
Vance then commended the CHIPS bill, signed by Biden after attracting some degree of bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress, calling it “the sort of policy you need to break our reliance on China.”
“It’s a great piece of legislation,” Vance added. “We [have] just got to go much further, so we don’t have to defend island countries if it’s not in our core national interest.”
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Monday’s debate was far from the first occasion on which China had come up in the hotly contested race. It has been a main focus of several ads by the Ryan campaign, which echo the claims made on the debate stage Monday about Vance’s alleged financial ties to China.
“If you don’t have the guts to take on China, how can you represent Ohio?” asks one Ryan ad released last week. In a separate ad, from March, Ryan says that “it is us versus China.”
The issue has been such a focus for Ryan that it has attracted criticism from Asian American groups and politicians, who said his rhetoric is fueling anti–Asian and Pacific Islander bias.
But Ryan has defended his ads, saying in a statement that he has “spent my entire career sounding the alarm on China, who — thanks to a concerted strategy by their communist government that has included currency manipulation, intellectual-property theft, and artificially depressed wages, use of child labor, and brutal working conditions — has been our greatest economic adversary for 40 years.”